The atrium of the University of Queensland’s carbon neutral Global Change Institute.

By Willow Aliento and staff reporters

20 March 2014 — From practical research into technology, materials and techniques through to big picture policy and planning studies, almost every university in Australia is contributing in some way to creating a greener society.

In a recent Green MashUp we published a “glance” at research work under way.

Here is a more comprehensive list. And it’s one we’ll keep adding to.

Australian National University

In the national capital, the Australian National University has several bodies engaged in research around climate change and sustainable energy. The ANU’s Energy Change Institute delivers education and research across the science and engineering of energy generation and energy efficiency, through to energy regulations, economics, sociology and policy.

Programs include research into fusion technologies, the energy–water nexus in sustainability and carbon capture and storage.

ECI is also a collaborating member of the ANU Climate Change Institute, which has a range of research programs around climate change from basic science through to impacts and adaptation, and solutions based on economics, institutions and energy technologies.

These include Smart Grid at the College of Engineering and Computer Science at ANU, and the Optimisation Research Group at NICTA. Together the research teams are jointly building new technologies based on mathematical optimisation and artificial intelligence to support the future of energy systems and the transition from today’s power systems. Specific research areas include demand management, microgrids, power systems planning and operations and resilience and self-healing.

ANU has been engaged in solar energy research for 40 years. The Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSES) in the Research School of Engineering undertakes work in the areas of photovoltaic and solar thermal energy conversion. Its activities span the range from basic R&D through to commercialisation. CSES currently has 20 research projects with a combined value exceeding $30M, and two solar technologies moving towards commercialisation including SLIVER solar cells and photovoltaic/thermal micro concentrators. ANU is one of three core members of the $150 million Australian Solar Institute.

Charles Darwin University

In the Top End, Charles Darwin University’s Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods is examining range of topics with a strong focus on Indigenous peoples and endemic natural resources both in Australia and the wider Asia-Pacific region. CDU also hosts the Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research, and The Centre for Renewable Energy,which is a partnership with the Northern Territory Government working to promote the Territory’s renewable energy sector and to provide leadership on the uptake of renewable energy, low emissions and energy efficient technologies.

Curtin University

Curtin University  has 70 PhD students, a Masters in Sustainability and Climate Policy with 50 students and 16 academic staff including the recent appointment of Josh Byrne.

It has a major roles in the CRC Low Carbon Living, the CRC Spatial Information, the SBEnrc, two recent Flagships and around 10 ARC grants. In May it will launch a new professional Doctorate in Sustainable Development with Jeffrey Sachs aimed at Third World research on the new Sustainable Development Goals.

Research has included teh impact that removal of tree canopies in cities has on public health. It has also done research identifying future habitat locations for precious flora and fauna threatened by climate change.

The University’s Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre is examining what the roads of the future will look like.

The Centre’s Charlie Hargroves says the research is looking at incorporating renewable energy generation in road infrastructure. “So you can have your off-site wind farms and that kind of great stuff, but what we’re looking at is, can we tender road projects that have renewable energy components in the actual road project?’’ Hargroves says. “So things like if someone’s building a bridge, they can put some tidal or wave turbines underneath the bridge, or they can put some wind turbines under the bridge or inside the bridge structure.” Roads could also be designed to allow electricity generation through capturing solar or kinetic energy, he says.

Flinders University

And in one of the driest states, research is being undertaken into more effective modelling and management of our scarce freshwater resources, through the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training at Flinders University in South Australia.

Griffith University

Griffith University has an Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise doing some important work on creating green businesses throughout the region.

James Cook University

James Cook University’s Centre for Tropical and Environmental Sustainability Sciences is undertaking research programs including the potential of silvopastoral agricultural systems (that is, combining livestock production with tree planting) for greenhouse gas abatement while maintaining food and fibre production. This CSIRO-funded project aims to investigate the barriers and opportunities around tree planting as a carbon farming initiative by primary producers, examining the commonly held concern it will negatively impact their productivity in terms of stock and cropping. It will assess the short and long-term carbon-production tradeoffs of silvopastoralism and how these vary spatially in relation to climate.

Other TESS programs include the integration of Indigenous knowledge and practices into natural resource management; biochar chemistry and applications including field trials of biochar in soil improvement projects and carbon farming pilots.

La Trobe University

La Trobe is working on projects around the sustainability of the food supply and the environment that supports it. Researchers are working on improving the efficiency of agricultural production and the protection and enhancement of environmental integrity and ecosystem services (for example, water and soil health).

A multidisciplinary approach is being taken to food security issues, bringing together the disciplines of science, sociology, planning, policy development, economics, law, education and communication.

Macquarie University

Macquarie University hosts The Australian Research Institute for Environment and Sustainability (ARIES), a not-for-profit research and consultancy centre that exists to promote change for sustainability.

Projects include Accounting for Energy Efficiency: a Roadmap for Transition. This is a partnership between ARIES and the Faculty of Business and Economics to drive sustainability in the business sector by educating accountants.

This timely project was motivated by the realisation many SMEs rely on their accountants to help them save money, and ask them for advice on energy efficiency, which the advisor is often unable to effectively give due to lack of expertise in that field. The project aims to redress the lack, and give accountants greater skills in the area of energy efficiency advice and carbon/energy accounting.

Monash University

Monash University has one of the nation’s largest and most diverse sustainability research programs, built on a collaborative partnership approach with other universities, the private sector, government and global experts across many disciplines.

The Monash Sustainability Institute’s research partnerships include Monash for Liveability, Green Steps and the Sustainable Development Program, as well as cross-disciplinary programs including Economics for Sustainability, Indigenous Communities and Climate Change, Soil Carbon program, Systemic and Adaptive Water Governance and the Australian Bushfire Prevention Initiative.

ClimateWorks, created by Monash University and the Myer Foundation, has been doing research into best practice standards for light vehicles.

ClimateWorks executive director Anna Skarbek says this would achieve more than a 50 per cent reduction in the average vehicle’s fuel use over 10 years.

“Even taking account of rising fuel prices, this would see the average driver pay less per year for fuel in 2020 than they do today, even after considering potential fuel price rises,” Starbek says.

Murdoch University

Murdoch University’s Institute for Social Sustainability has been doing some work into areas like the relationship between climate change, ecosystem health and human mental health.

RMIT

Victoria’s RMIT University has several strands of sustainability research focused around the interaction between social factors and the built environment. The Sustainable and Urban Regional Futures (SURF) program brings together researchers from geography, planning, cultural studies, sociology, business, architecture, media studies, economics and education to find solutions to the sustainability challenges faced by both urban and regional communities.

RMIT’s Climate Change Adaptation Program focuses on how cities and communities might best respond to the complexity of global environmental change and adapt to the on-the-ground issues associated with a changing climate. Darryn McEvoy, the Program Leader of CCAP also occupies the role of Deputy Director of the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research (VCCCAR).

As reported to The Fifth Estate by Matthew Francis in feedback to Green MashUp: Aussie universities – A glance at what their research teams are up to on sustainability, RMIT’s School of Property and Construction Management has begun research on what constitutes sustainable outcomes through retrofitting of existing buildings, the processes of using Energy Performance Contracts in these upgrades, and how these environmental upgrades contribute with workplace productivity gains.

Southern Cross University

Lismore’s Southern Cross University together with the Gold Coast and Tweed Campuses engages in a range of sustainability research and development programs under the banner of Sustainability, Partnerships and Community Engagement (SPaCE) – this includes the Regional Food Network, a network of scholars and practitioners focused on developing partnerships within and across regions in the Asia Pacific. SCU has also undertaken pilot projects into the effectiveness of hemp for effluent mop-up and the subsequent use of the hemp fibre as a building material.

Swinburne University of Technology

The fine detail of materials and methodologies within the built environment is a strong theme at Swinburne University of Technology. The current sustainability research initiatives also include a research project on Indigenous participation in a low-carbon economy. The aim of this unique research is to investigate how Australian Indigenous people can be included in the emerging opportunities of a low-carbon economy, particularly in relation to the up-skilling of young people. A heavy emphasis is being given to integrating Aboriginal approaches in stakeholder engagement and the incorporation of traditional cultural knowledge.

Swinburne is also engaged in research into plasmonic and nanoplasmonic solar cells, and a number of projects around infrastructure materials and methodologies through the university’s Centre for Sustainable Infrastructure. The CSI also undertakes research into transportation systems and water resources modelling.

University of Melbourne

University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning is the home of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute. The MSSI operates a Seed Funding Scheme called Societal Transformation, which supports research projects aimed at building capacity towards the wider societal transformation to an affordable economy that emits zero carbon, is less consumptive, more equitable, and that provides personal fulfilment, longevity and reasonable health. The MSSI’s position is that the impediments to transformation are not technological, they are social and economic. Projects underway at the MSSI include Post Carbon Pathways.

The same faculty’s School of Design is the home of the Victorian Eco-Innovation lab. Research topics at VEIL include transport, “eco-acupuncture”, food security and visions for Melbourne peri-urban and urban communities in 2032.

The Melbourne Energy Institute is another research body within the University of Melbourne that focuses on energy economics and policy. It focuses on researching innovative solutions in the following areas: new energy resources; developing new ways to harness renewable energy; more efficient ways to use energy; securing energy waste and framing optimal laws and regulation to achieve energy outcomes.

University of Newcastle

At the University of Newcastle, fixing the legacy of past bad practice is a major research focus. The uni’s Centre for Sustainable Ecosystem Restoration brings together researchers and the academic streams with community groups, industry and government to address significant ecological problems. Current activities include research into mine spoil rehabilitation, forest-woodland restoration and reconstruction.

Having access to some extremely degraded ecosystems and polluted sites thanks to the region’s mining and heavy industry sectors allows researchers to carry out long-term site-based studies aimed at developing models and methods for determining restoration potential, dispersal potential, species migration capacity, sustainability and resilience.

The Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources is another research body looking at sustainable energy production. NIER’s priorities include clean energy production, energy efficiency and the minimisation of carbon emissions.

University of New South Wales

The University of New South Wales has been a leader in the sustainability field for several decades, offering the first masters in sustainability in the country. UNSW’s Faculty of the Built Environment hosts the CRC for Low Carbon Living, an innovation hub with a budget of over $100 million that is specifically focused on developing methods of achieving a more sustainable built environment.

Chief executive Scientia Professor Deo Prasad was this year recognised with an Order of Australia for services to architecture, particularly in the area of sustainable urban design and the solar energy sector.

“About 50 per cent of world [photovoltaics] arguably finds its IP origins at UNSW,” Professor Prasad told The Fifth Estate.

“We also have the largest water research centre, and SMART [UNSW’s materials research centre] is among the best known building materials groups in Australia.”

The CRC’s research is divided into three programs: building scale sustainability, precinct scale sustainability and community scale sustainability. In all three the focus is on developing the tools, techniques and technology to reduce carbon impacts and improve sustainability. There are currently 42 research projects underway.

“We explore innovations for Australian industry and professions which will allow businesses to complete globally in a low carbon world,” Professor Prasad said.

“We also [create through research] the tools and assessment methods which give a better understanding of the evidence base for high performance buildings.”

UNSW also hosts the City Futures Research Centre, led by Professor Bill Randolph. The specific programs of City Futures include Sustainability and Climate Change Adaption, and the Healthy Built Environments Program (HBEP) funded by the NSW Ministry of Health, which brings together health practitioners and built environment practitioners to connect the dots between urban design and human health impacts including obesity and diabetes.

The university also has a Sustainable Design and Development Research Hub that is examining issues including product lifecycles.

The University of Queensland

The University of Queensland Global Change Institute is doing research into food security in an era of climate change. This will become a critical issue. It has economic and political repercussions with an estimated global population of 9 billion by 2050.

As part of its work, the university is producing a series of maps for the Australian context. These include: (1) national maps on plant productivity and the current production of major foods; (2) national maps that depict food fluxes for domestically-produced food both within Australia and to global markets, and; (3) national maps that project, on a decade by decade basis to 2050, potential shifts in plant productivity and national food production taking into consideration predictions for climate change, the national landscape, and land use patterns.

The University of South Australia

The University of South Australia is leading research into heat stress in Australian cities. It’s the kind of work that could save lives and reduce the carbon footprint.

UniSA’s Zero Waste Centre for Sustainable Design & Behaviour is examining urban micro climates in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

A project that spans three years, it will bring together three universities and eight industry and government partners. It will provide directions for urban planners. According to this brief, the project aims to develop new summer design conditions for 2030 and 2050 and establish new adaptive thermal comfort criteria for buildings, incorporating anticipated climate change.

It will examine current behaviour of households during heatwaves and develop designs to avoid heat stress and ensure safety and comfort during heatwaves.

University of Sydney

The University of Sydney’s  Integrated Sustainability Analysis unit has produced a Consumption Atlas, in collaboration with the Australian Conservation Foundation, which shows people the greenhouse gas emissions created by households in their suburb.

The atlas shows households in areas straddling Sydney harbour and Queensland are the country’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters. These areas are closely followed by inner suburban Canberra, Woollahra and Mosman in Sydney, Southbank and Docklands in Melbourne and Fortitude Valley and Newstead in Queensland. The lowest greenhouse gas emitting households are in Tasmania, specifically in the Derwent Valley, Kentish and Brighton areas.

University of Tasmania

The University of Tasmania is one of the participants in the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre along with Australian National University, Murdoch University, Griffith University and Charles Sturt University. UTAS staff at the CRC include Professor Nathan Bindoff, one of the scientific team who contributed to the Nobel Peace Prize winning body of research for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

University of Technology Sydney

The Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS is engaged in multiple research streams, including transport, water and sanitation, corporate sustainability, sustainable buildings, energy and climate change, international development, local government, natural resources and ecosystems, resource futures and social change. The research is highly geared towards both policy change and practical applications.

An example of their corporate sustainability stream projects is Green Chrysalis, a research project commissioned by the Australian Business Foundation, which is investigating the processes that drive innovative SME business activity in response to the new green economy. Through extensive case study research with SME businesses, the research aims to outline methods by which SMEs can innovate and capitalise on the green economy and also where the opportunities are for universities to support this innovation.

The Institute is involved in a number of collaborative projects with other universities and the CSIRO. The Wealth from Waste Research Collaboration Cluster, for example, is a three-year research program funded by the CSIRO that aims to identify viable options for the recycling of metals from existing products in Australia. The aim is to expand Australia’s mineral resource base from being focused largely on extractive processes to one that capitalises on secondary production to reduce the environmental, social and economic impacts of primary minerals production, and to expand the supply of mineral and metal resources available for advanced manufacturing. The research cluster is running until 2016, and the other partner universities include Monash University, the University of Queensland, Swinburne University, and Yale University (USA).

UTS is also one of the universities collaborating on The Intelligent Grid with University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, Curtin University of Technology, University of South Australia and CSIRO.

The Intelligent Grid Research Program, is investigating technologies and practices to make our electricity networks smart, greener and more efficient. The plan is for this cluster of research to contribute to the CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship’s research goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions and doubling the efficiency of Australia’s new energy generation, supply and end use technologies. Watch this space.

University of Western Australia

Two climate change projects led by the University of Western Australia – one a study into reporting on climate change in the media, and another focusing on the challenge of ancient soils under modern land use – have been chosen for funding by the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN).

UWA has also partnered with Impact Building Systems of Queensland, and the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination (NCEDA) to develop technology to combine solar power generation with desalination. The UWA researcher behind the innovation is Winthrop Professor Hui Tong Chua, who is also research theme leader for geothermal energy and waste heat utilisation in the University’s Centre for Energy.

University of Western Sydney

The University of Western Sydney is the first university in Australia to install and pilot “pulpmaster” – an innovative food waste to energy recycling system. The system is an Australian patented design and is a best practice state of the art food waste to energy system in the newly upgraded Food Science precinct at UWS Hawkesbury.

The Pulpmaster system converts food waste into pulp which is then transported to a facility where it is transformed into green energy and/or fertiliser. For every 100 tonnes of food waste diverted from landfill, enough green energy is produced to power 34 homes per annum. So far they have recycled 52 tonnes of food waste in 3 years, saving tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and plastic bags being sent to landfill.

University of Wollongong

Anyone wanting to find out the latest thinking in green buildings should check out the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre at the University of Wollongong.

The university recently won the Solar Decathlon, which was conceived in 2000 by the US Department of Energy as a competition for university student teams “to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive”.

It was the first time any team has scored 957.6 out of a possible 1000 points.

Team UOW’s house project, labelled “Illawarra Flame”, also scored first place in the categories of Engineering, Architecture, Solar Application, Energy Balance and Hot Water.  Among the winning design’s many innovative features was an internal thermal mass wall, 90 per cent of which was constructed from recycled content, including crushed terracotta roof tiles from the ‘original’ house.

The university has also developed a “transpired solar collector” which is a solar wall (a modern, unglazed adaptation of the age-old Trombe wall idea) suitable for both new and retrofit applications. It uses exterior metal cladding to capture solar energy, which then heats and ventilates indoor spaces.

4 replies on “University sustainability research: the latest update”

  1. The Environmental Engineering program at Murdoch University has a strong focus on learning around sustainability with several units in this undergraduate degree program strongly addressing sustainable development. The associated research program also has a strong focus on sustainability. The research projects can be seen at https://www.murdoch.edu.au/School-of-Engineering-and-Information-Technology/Research/Environmental-Engineering/

  2. The Environmental Engineering program at Murdoch University has a strong focus on learning around sustainability with several units in this undergraduate degree program strongly addressing sustainable development. The associated research program also has a strong focus on sustainability. The research projects can be seen at https://www.murdoch.edu.au/School-of-Engineering-and-Information-Technology/Research/Environmental-Engineering/

  3. The University of Sydney also runs a unique multidisciplinary sustainability degree program, designed to provide students with a strong foundation in sustainability challenges. Unlike other sustainability degrees, the Sydney sustainability program is not focused on business or science, but instead nine faculties (including medicine, engineering, agriculture, architecture and design, science, law etc.) contribute to the degree.

  4. The University of Sydney also runs a unique multidisciplinary sustainability degree program, designed to provide students with a strong foundation in sustainability challenges. Unlike other sustainability degrees, the Sydney sustainability program is not focused on business or science, but instead nine faculties (including medicine, engineering, agriculture, architecture and design, science, law etc.) contribute to the degree.

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